Translated from an article by ITmedia PC USER, one of the major professional IT media outlets in Japan that provides comprehensive coverage of PCs, new office IT equipment and business services.
Gaba, a company very familiar with one-on-one English conversation, is well-known for its new learning system "Gaba Online" that allows students to take virtual lessons in the same way as face-to-face lessons. ASUS Chromebox 4 was recently introduced as the mini PC to support Gaba Online. We explored the reasons and the results obtained.
Founded in 1995, Gaba is an English conversation school that offers one-on-one lessons. It has been operating using IT from early on, and online lessons were introduced in August 2020, allowing students to choose between face-to-face lessons in the studio and online lessons.
Chromebox was introduced as the mini PC that supports operations starting in 2016, and later all equipment was replaced with ASUS Chromebox 4. How did Gaba take leverage Chromebox 4 and why did they choose ASUS Chromebox 4? We visited the Yokohama Learning Studio (LS) and asked Ms. Ikeda and Ms. Takahashi at the company what they were interested in achieving.
|Ms. Yuko Takahashi (left), Manager of the IT Infrastructure Division, GABA IT Department, and Ms. Akiko Ikeda, Senior Manager of the GABA IT Department (located at Yokohama LS in the Sky Building), have been using ASUS Chromebox 4.|
Ms. Ikeda: We operate an English school specializing in one-on-one conversation and hold classes at 36 studios in the Tokyo metropolitan area. We have developed our curriculum in house, and in addition to providing services to a wide range of people — from elementary school students to seniors — we also offer employee training services for corporations. One of our features is the variety of instructors (lecturers). We have instructors from more than 75 countries with work experience in various industries, such as finance, tourism and manufacturing, so that lessons and common terms are ideal for the type of industry students are in.
|Ms. Ikeda has been upgrading LS equipment since the start of online lessons. She describes Gaba as "a company that has become stronger with IT," and the company actively utilizes IT to support the learning of students.|
Ms. Takahashi: Lessons are offered from 7:00 AM to 9:15 PM, and online lessons have been offered since August 2020. When booking a lesson, you can freely choose between online and face-to-face lessons, and you can switch until just before the lesson starts (5 minutes before). The high degree of flexibility in terms of time and location has been particularly well received by our business participants.
Ms. Ikeda: We started as a venture company and have strengthened by utilizing IT. Our reservation system was developed in the early 2000s. Previously, I was accepting lesson reservations at the LS reception desk or by phone, but there were lines at the reception desk and constant calls, so I built a system that allows for making reservations from the website. The development of this is the current portal site for students, myGaba.
|The screen of the portal site myGaba for students. From here you can book lessons, select instructors, and prepare for and review lessons. Apart from the lessons, content that expands the range of learning is also available to students, such as reading materials and articles suited to each learning level.|
Ms. Takahashi: The myGaba portal site is designed for students. From here you can book lessons, select instructors, and prepare for and review lessons. We also provide content for self-study that is separate from the curriculum, and we have a mobile site where you can study anytime, anywhere.
Ms. Takahashi: It is used as a device for instructors. Each lesson, we will start with small talk and proceed with the lesson using our curriculum or the teaching materials brought in by students (if requested).
For in-person classes, digital teaching materials are projected on a screen, and we proceed while facing each other. For online lessons, we use Gaba Online to share the screen and the teaching materials while watching each other's camera images. At the end of the lesson, the instructor will enter new words and phrases, advice for students and other information into the lesson chart. We use ASUS Chromebox 4 for all of this process.
|A lesson at Yokohama LS. The instructor and the student sit across from the monitor. It is said that this style and sense of distance are important ways of helping students relax while learning.|
|Gaba's style is for the instructor to take notes so that students can focus on the conversation. Each instructor has their own style when taking notes, and many people become repeat customers because of these notes.|
Ms. Takahashi:I first introduced and used ASUS Japan's Chromebox in 2016. Since support is about to end, we chose to upgrade the specifications of the device when we introduced online lessons.
I was very satisfied with the model I was using so far, so I first spoke to ASUS Japan. In these difficult times of the coronavirus, despite the fact that the specifications and timeframe we were looking for were quite difficult, we received very kind support, and the products, units, and schedule were delivered as desired. It was helpful.
Ms. Takahashi:In face-to-face lessons, it would have been nice if the website display and feedback input work could be done comfortably. However, in online lessons that require sharing screens, we rely on video to see each other to proceed with the lesson, so by all means the requirements for device specs are high.
Ms. Ikeda:Even a slight display lag or audio distortion can hinder language learning for students. If it becomes difficult to hear due to factors other than pronunciation, or if the student becomes anxious about "I missed it", the progress of the lesson will be set back. In order to provide lessons with the same quality as face-to-face lessons, it was inevitable that we would need to raise the specifications of devices. In addition, since we were looking at expanding future functions, we considered introducing models with specifications that could help with this.
Chromebox 4 has four models available with Intel's 10th Generation Core i7 / i5 / i3 and Celeron processors. It is said that these also support enterprise solutions.
Ms. Takahashi:Well, I heard that it is the fastest in Japan. When I first consulted, it was Chromebox 3, but after receiving information during the verification, it finally became the latest Chromebox 4. The hardware specifications are customized. We used the beta version of the program to verify the required specifications, but ASUS Japan also prepared an actual device for verification. I was able to choose it after trying out the actual device until I was satisfied, so I could introduce it with confidence.
|ASUS Chromebox 4 was announced in Japan at the end of April. The body size is about 148.5 (width) x 148.5 (depth) x 40 (height) mm, which is small enough to be held with one hand. The design is more sophisticated than the previous model, and it is said to be popular with Gaba staff.|
Ms. Takahashi: As for the performance, we verified it before introducing it, so of course we are very satisfied. It is very popular with instructors giving online lessons, who say that the display speed has increased and there is no display lag.
Other than performance, I also felt when introducing it that the body size is small and the easy management is unique to Chrome OS. Inventory space is limited, and although it is a small detail, the low delivery cost is also a merit that cannot be overlooked from the standpoint of store management.
We asked the staff of each LS, not the IT department, to replace the equipment in order to complete the replacement quickly. We found that even people who do not usually handle IT equipment can replace the devices without any problems.
Ms. Ikeda: On Chromebox 4, the corners of the body are rounded, giving the impression that the design is more sophisticated than before. Basically, it is mounted on the back side of a liquid crystal display and operates there, but it may also be placed on a desk due to compatibility with some work stations and equipment. Even in that case, it harmonizes with the atmosphere of the work station without any discomfort, and the impression is very good.
|ASUS Chromebox 4 installed in LS in Yokohama. It operates while mounted on the back of a liquid crystal display. The liquid crystal display is also made by ASUS Japan. A webcam is installed above the LCD display because it is also used in online lessons using Zoom.|
Ms. Takahashi: Chrome OS can be centrally administered, so management is easy. Since the device does not have data, there is no need to worry about information leakage in the unlikely event of theft.
Otherwise, from the standpoint of operating the device, I am happy that the OS is light. If something goes wrong with the system, it will start up immediately even if you reboot. There is a 5-minute break between lessons during which the instructor will complete feedback for the 40-minute lessons and prepare for the next lesson. Chrome OS and ASUS Chromebox 4 are now indispensable in terms of our ability to offer nonstop lessons.
|Ms. Takahashi, who has been promoting the introduction of equipment with Ms. Ikeda. In addition to offering light operation, being easy to manage and highly secure, Chromebox is said to have the advantage of not requiring IT literacy from the operator. The deciding factors for ASUS Chromebox 4 is not only performance of baseline models, but also introduction and procurement support and customizability.|
Ms. Ikeda: It is also a big attraction that Chrome devices have a long support period for automatic updates to Chrome OS. Chromebox 4 updates are offered until June 2028, and the fact that it can be used with peace of mind for such a long time has greatly influenced our decision to introduce it at this time.
Ms. Ikeda: I also considered introducing a Chromebook, but ultimately in face-to-face lessons, I think that our current style, that is, the positional relationship and sense of distance where the instructor and the student face diagonally across the display, is the best. So, with the instructors, we decided that a Chromebox and an external LCD display are more suitable than a Chromebook to ensure screen visibility for both student and instructor.
Ms. Takahashi: At our company, each student has a dedicated counselor to support learning, and we are considering introducing a flip-type pen-based Chromebook as a device for these counselors to use.
If it is a flip type, the screen can be folded back and used as a tablet, so it is possible to proceed with counseling while showing it to a student as if it were paper. The performance is also sufficient, so I think we can support our online counseling that started in December 2020.
Ms. Ikeda: By carrying the device, we can ensure the continuity of work regardless of the location, which will lead to efficiency and quality for the work counselors do. In addition to that, I expect that it can contribute to the optimization of overall store operations, such as becoming paperless.
Ms. Takahashi: Of course. We are currently in the process of renting out the equipment and verifying it.
|Gaba is also planning to introduce a flip-type Chromebook for counselors. The photo is of a Chromebook with a Core i7 processor: ASUS Chromebook Flip C436FA.|
Ms. Takahashi: With the introduction of Chromebox 4, the liquid crystal display has also been redesigned to a widescreen monitor. With some exceptions, it's close to the Chromebox 4. We set some conditions such as screen size and anti-glare specifications, but the color and design were also important points to select to match the atmosphere of the work station. This was also decided using the actual machine with the cooperation of ASUS Japan. Thanks to you, I am very happy to introduce something that fits the work space and atmosphere, that’s not too big or too small.
Ms. Ikeda: Instructors are pleased that the visuals and usability have improved dramatically because many work stations used to use a 4:3 liquid crystal display, which is almost square. I feel that the instructors’ performance has improved, which has led to an improvement in the quality of face-to-face lesson services as well as online, as we had hoped.
Ms. Ikeda:A perfect score of 100 points. With all the difficulties of the pandemic, they still deliver everything according to your wishes, including the schedule, and there are no complaints about the performance and quality of the product.
Ms. Takahashi: I also would say a perfect score. I look forward to future support. (Laughs)
Ms. Ikeda: I would like to complete the online and face-to-face integration that I have been working on since the online lessons began, so that the students can use it more conveniently. Regarding online lessons, we will continue to expand the usage environment for students.
The changes in society caused by the coronavirus have triggered a review of our services so far. We would like to provide new value to the students by improving existing services and providing new services.
We are also steadily shifting from using SaaS (Software as a Service) to the cloud, instead of focusing on on-premises. In the future, we would like to aim to provide high-quality services, both online and face-to-face, more than ever.
Ms. Ikeda:We are also English learners and are taking Gaba lessons ourselves. Continuity is important for learning a language. At LS, we have a counselor who can talk about lesson content and self-study in Japanese, so that you can continue learning English with peace of mind. Once you take the lesson, you will find it fun to learn English, so please come experience it with a free trial lesson.
Ms. Takahashi:I think it is a good point that our lessons can directly meet the needs of the students. I am also taught phrases that are frequently used in presentations, but I am learning very much because I can learn directly from instructors with diverse work experience.
One of our missions is to support people who challenge themselves with fearless life goals. The idea is that learning English is not the goal, but that we want to help students learn English as a way to achieve their goals. We are looking forward to meeting those who have goals and those who will find them in the future.
|Since 1995, Gaba has been developing one-on-one English conversation skills mainly in the Tokyo metropolitan area, offering lessons tailored to each individual's learning goals. By utilizing IT, both students and management can enjoy various benefits.|